Be Smart About Art

Will you be my sweetheart?

written by: Susan Mumford Feb. 9, 2014 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 3101 views

Will you be my sweetheart?

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

Artist-gallerist relationships are frequently compared to relationship relationships. I hear many stories about these relationships having gone wrong, which is unfortunate when both sides invest so much in one another.

I encourage artists and dealers alike to watch out for early indicators of the road ahead, including warning signs of things getting difficult. Following initial studio visits and conversations, when you start talking about important (and sensitive) areas such as pricing or consignment terms, pay attention to how the other party is working with you. Anyone worth their salt will understand that in the professional world, compromise is essential and sometimes, you don’t get your way.

It works both ways…

A couple of years ago, a sculptor I know was invited to participate in a group show. She was over the moon to have her first London show. However the evening prior to consigning pieces to the gallery, she was surprised by a contract that the gallery owner emailed. The artist hadn’t been given any forewarning of the document, nor its restrictive terms.

Had the artist signed as expected, she would have agreed to exclusive representation in London for a period of one year. Yet, the show was a collaboration of sorts, a group show that gave artists and gallery an opportunity to see what it was like to work together. To suddenly put pen to paper for long-term commitment was unreasonable.

Personally, I recall that in my own formative days as an art dealer, I lined up wine sponsorship for the private view of a solo show. It was the first time I had attained corporate support, so you can imagine I was delighted. Upon calling the artist with the good news, I did not receive the reaction I expected, but instead got serious disappointment because he wanted a different wine of the same Italian region. Furthermore, he insisted on having a lavish street party along with the private view. A standard art opening would not do.

I recall the artist telling me early on how he had fallen out with every previous dealer. He had jokingly said that perhaps he shouldn’t have mentioned it. Had I known better, I would have paid attention to that.

Before you start working with a key collaborator, pay close attention to your conversations. Does the other side meet you halfway? Are they willing to compromise for mutual benefit? How have previous relationships panned out and are there any concerns about the way they communicate?

Most times it works, but you can’t make it work alone. Be prepared to walk away sooner rather than later, when you have less to lose.    

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Photographs © Chris King.